North Yorkshire police commissioner Philip Allott reminded us that the onus is still wrongly on women to keep themselves safe - Jayne Dowle

The boss of BT has put forward plans for a women-only emergency service, an app which would track our movements and send an alert if we didn’t reach our intended destination. “Is that so they know where to find your body?”, remarked one friend.

Sarah Everard.
Sarah Everard.

Philip Jansen, the chief executive of the telecommunications giant, said that the horrific deaths of Sarah Everard, the 33-year-old from York killed by a policeman as she walked home from a friend’s house in Clapham, South London, and Sabina Nessa, 28, who died in a park not many miles away last month, filled him with “outrage and disgust” and prompted the action.

“Male violence is causing so many people, especially women, to live in fear,” he added, explaining that he came up with the idea of the app because he is in a position to do something practical.

Let’s not see this through entirely cynical eyes. Whilst Jansen’s idea of a GPS tracking service, provisionally called 888 or ‘walk me home’, is obviously a positive PR story for his company, it’s also important that men are seen and heard speaking out about the escalating levels of violence and abuse directed at women. And indeed, he is brave to put his head above the parapet.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme she welcomed any action that made women “feel safer” – “but the underlying problem is not how women feel”. Picture: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire.

This is a deeply emotive issue that cuts entirely across society and all sexes, affecting young, old, all backgrounds, ethnicities and political persuasions.

In response to the BT app idea Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner pointed out on Twitter, “only one per cent of reported rapes result in a charge. That’s the problem, not us walking home”. Appealing directly to the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, she called for the Government to tackle male violence head-on rather than sanctioning even more surveillance of women as they go about their daily lives.

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, chairwoman of the Commons Women and Equalities Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme she welcomed any action that made women “feel safer” – “but the underlying problem is not how women feel”.

“It’s the culture of male violence against women – and of course this app is going to do nothing to tackle that,” she said.

Philip Allott.

“And I think the Government needs to come forward with a whole suite of measures that are going to address the root of the problem...”

I agree. We shouldn’t allow dangerous men off the hook for a second. An app, or any attempt at amelioration without tackling the root causes of violence against women, dodges the issue and actually, makes the situation even more perilous because it distracts attention from the real problem.

It does nothing to tackle the fact that Wayne Couzens, while a serving police officer, falsely arrested a young woman and subjected her to a truly horrific ordeal that ended in her death. It does nothing either, to deal with the fact that this particular man has been accused of exposing himself to women in the past, or excuse the fact, obtained by reporters via a Freedom of Information request, that at least 26 serving Metropolitan Police officers have been convicted of sex crimes since 2016.

The onus is still placed on women to keep themselves safe, as North Yorkshire police, fire and crime commissioner Philip Allott reminded us, when in an interview with BBC Radio York, he argued that we should be more “streetwise”.

Mr Allott, who has apologised for his remarks, is facing calls to resign and faces a meeting of the area’s police and crime panel today.

The Prime Minister has said that Mr Allott’s remarks were “completely wrong” but stopped short of saying he should resign. But reluctance to acknowledge fault is hardly sending the right message to men – and women.

And it’s a bigger issue than one man’s misunderstanding. I’d say two things would immediately make an impact. Ban pornography and clamp down on offences for possessing any drug which boosts testosterone and/or heightens aggressive behaviour.

When I’ve suggested this in mixed company, I’ve been met by incredulity, even pity – perhaps I don’t understand that these measures would be impossible to implement? Really? I don’t believe that, but then again, as a woman and a mother, what do I know about unacceptable male behaviour? However, much could be done to teach boys from the earliest age that respect for females – including their mothers, sisters and authority figures such as teachers – should be unquestionable.

I’m not saying that early education would stop the next Wayne Couzens, but it would at least acknowledge that we have a problem. And it’s certainly not one that women should shoulder alone.

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